February 2021 View Online

Dear Fellow Gardener

Welcome to the February 2021 newsletter from Sophie's Patch in the Adelaide Hills, SA. Each month I share what has been happening in and around my patch of garden in the Adelaide Hills, as well as some of my adventures further afield.  I hope you enjoy reading it. Sophie Thomson.

In this Newsletter

How amazing that the first month of 2021 has already swept by! Summer holidays have ended all too quickly and my kids are back at school. While many parents look forward to this, I much prefer school holidays and would have liked them for another month over summer at least. I love the fact that while it might be busy, the pressure and deadlines are off, and we can all just ‘be’. As always, I had big plans to spend lots of time in my garden and great lists of what I hoped to accomplish. Ha ha!? Much of it remains on the list, although I do hope I will get to the summer tidy up and dead heading soon. 

It's getting hotter but you can make a difference

If the heat is worrying you, do you fancy living somewhere where the temperature is 5 to 6 degrees cooler…… yet still have the conveniences and familiarity of where you live? It’s easy! Plant a garden and keep it green and healthy. A new study by Macquarie University, the Centre for Smart Green Cities and Adapt West set out to measure how much trees and other home garden vegetation reduced day and night heat. This study was done in the western suburbs of Adelaide and is being applied all over Australia. It has proven and quantified what gardeners already knew – a green garden cools your home down.  If you would like to make your home cooler this link has more detail, and if you start now you will notice the difference by next summer.

What can we expect from the weather?

As far as the weather goes, while we have had some hot days, with 46.3 recorded here a few weeks ago (more about the temperature later), on the whole summer has been distinctively milder here than I would usually expect. There have only been a few nights when I haven’t had my doona on and I have a number of friends who have had their fires burning at night!? We have also had several decent summer rains which is unusual. Usually, I say that there are no decent rains here from about late October till late April, but we have had a few great downpours here in the last few days and a few weeks ago. I am not complaining mind you, however I am slightly worried that it feels like autumn and if the nights get cool that will mean my summer crops won’t go on as long as I hope. Apologies, I sound like a farmer whining about the weather! I guess just as the last year has shown us, we need to be flexible and adaptable and roll with whatever gets thrown at us.
“Blessed are the flexible, because they won’t be bent out of shape”.

Around the Patch

Our vegie patch has been abundant with summer staples like zucchini, squash and basil, however other crops are running significantly later than normal due to the cooler weather. The ‘Burnley Bounty’ tomatoes planted in the polyhouse back in July have been feeding us with plenty of tasty fruits however my outside tomatoes are very slow and only just starting to colour. I am hoping that the weather stays mild so those outdoors will kick in serious production before we get our first frosts, which are usually early May…….. although some years they are mid April!?  
Since these images were taken, I have pulled out most of those planted in the polyhouse in July as they have run out of puff. The whole purpose of the polyhouse was to grow winter tomatoes, or at least extend my tomato season, and it has worked but for me to get tomatoes in the early part of winter, I need to get them planted now so the plants are already big by winter. 
Other tomatoes growing in the polyhouse which have been doing well are ‘Thai Pink Egg’ which is a variety I grew outside a few years ago. It is the main variety grown in Thailand and other subtropical areas as it doesn’t mind humidity, is disease resistant and doesn’t split. While it didn’t like the dry heat out in the garden over summer they are doing really well inside the polyhouse where there is more humidity like there would be in the subtropics. 
I have also grown a miniature bush variety called ‘Tiny Tim’ which only gets 30-40cm high. While I have plenty of room in my vegie patch, my garden is my dirt lab so I can try things for gardeners with less space. I have tried some true miniatures before but been disappointed by the flavour of the fruit, yet these are delicious. Few ever make it inside as I eat them while I am down there. If the season allows, I plan to try another wicking bed of them out in the sun next to the other bush tomatoes I have growing which are called Patio and only get to 50-60cm with full sized, fruit with great flavour. 

Vertical Vegies Update

Each year I rave about the virtues of vertical vegies to grow up quickly, create shade or shelter, reduce radiant heat, and feed us, but if you haven’t heard me go on about them before check out this video we filmed last autumn   You can also read more about vertical vegies here. 

It's a Vertical Vegie Race!!

Each year I follow the general principles of crop rotation and move where I grow the different types. Due to their vigour, rate of growth and productivity I also need to make sure I really improve the soil or they simply don’t grow well. This year I have been more aware of their comparative growth rates which is really important if people are growing them up a frame to give them shade or shelter. 

Winner.... New Guinea Bean

And the winner is …….. New Guinea Bean. Without a doubt, it is the fastest and most vigorous. This year I have six plants growing on a sheet of builders’ mesh on the western side of the shed and polyhouse, with the idea being that it stops the afternoon sun hitting these structures and keeps them cooler.  The reason they were planted so late is we had open garden 7-9th November and I didn’t get a chance to get them planted till after that, not to mention the fact that our last frosts are early to mid-November anyway. If you live on the Adelaide Plains or somewhere with a milder, frost free climate, you could actually plant a month earlier so get the coverage 4 weeks sooner. Now the reality is that my plants haven’t started to fruit properly yet, but that will come. The beautiful white flowers are scented too so that is a bonus

Second Place... Tromboncino

The runner up would have to be Tromboncino. This climbing zucchini is also doing really growing over the two small arches in the vegie patch. Well actually, only the plants on one arch are powering away with the ones on the lower arch still less than 30cm. The reason why? I blame the root competition from the neighboring elderberry hedge for stunting these plants. I presume they are robbing them of moisture and nutrients and vegies really don’t like root competition, particularly vigorous, hungry vegies and certainly not under our harsh conditions. 

Runner Ups... 


Finally, pumpkins are coming in third. Last year I made a determined effort to grow pumpkins vertically on a sheet of builders’ mesh. The variety I succeed best with was called Summer Orange and I harvested 35 full sized fruits of 2-3kg each off six plants over a 6m x 2.4m sheet. So, this year I have this variety growing over the main arch in the vegie patch. Again, one side is doing better than the other which I simply put down to the better I fed the soil, the better the growth I am getting. I have also got this variety growing over the giant pumpkin, however these plants are only just starting to take off, so I am trying to train them to one long runner so that it grow up and over the structure.  


I have Caigua growing on the northern side of the polyhouse on a sheet of mesh, but it has only just started to take off, even though it was planted months ago. It certainly isn’t one you would want to plant if you are wanting fast, early growth. 

Climbing Spinach

This year I have just grown climbing spinach up a tripod in an extra-large terracotta pot. It is another one that is late to take off as it must need the warmer weather and is only just starting to send the tendrils up now, even though the plants have been in for a while. While I do like this plant there is only so much you can eat. Last year we grew it on the mesh panel on the western side of the shed and it was great. I think it’s probably best suited to a really hot position. 

Pimply Squash

Pimply squash is growing on a mesh panel and has grown well but is yet to start to fruit. 


Finally, after much deliberation I decided to try and grow chokos here. When I asked for people’s feedback on this plant, it was hilarious with very polarized views (See ). I was particularly interested to see its growth rate from the perspective of the plants growing up to create shade or shelter, and so I planted it on a 6m x 2.4m panel of mesh behind the poly tunnel against the paddock and along another sheet of mesh to screen the portaloos for our Easter open garden. Both sections are in good soil and get watered so I would have expected the plants to power away, even though I wasn’t convinced they would reshoot after our frosty winters. Well, the plants have been so slow to take off and still wouldn’t be more than 1m x 1m. So much for this rampant plant that was going to take over!?  

Garden 'Oopses'


Pumpkins elsewhere around Sophie’s Patch have been a disaster. Last year my best crop of pumpkins came from the accidental pumpkins in the orchard. Its where I threw rotten pumpkins from the cellar the year before. To be honest, I was running very late prepping my new pumpkin patch, however I wasn’t worried because I thought I would get a crop from the orchard if all else failed. Well, that was not to be. It turned out that the geese have decided, after 7 years of ignoring them, that they like eating pumpkin plants!? They have eaten everything that has come up in the orchard and then got into my pumpkin patch and ate most of the new plants I had planted. I have since fenced it off and resowed, but I may have left it too late for them to grow and fruit. Time will tell. I am thinking that I might even make a temporary poly tunnel to cover them and hold the frost damage off long enough for the fruit to finish developing.


Well I must have thrown all of last year’s damaged fruit and old plants in the orchard for the flock to eat, because they are coming up everywhere. It turns out the geese don’t like to eat them!? In fact, I have even had to thin them out as they were so high they are stopping the sprinklers from watering the fruit trees properly. Thank goodness they did self-seed, as I never got around to planting any in my prepared vegie garden! My only challenge is that I wanted to grow a heap of the variety called ‘Amarylla’ which has sweet golden fruits that make a delicious cake, in fact it was one of the cakes we served in the cake boxes at our spring open garden. As I grew four varieties last year, they would have cross pollinated so I have no idea what varieties will be coming up in the orchard. The fruits haven’t yet started to develop, again due to the cooler weather but they usually power through till May. Hopefully, these self-seeders will crop well.  
There are far too many other oopses for me to mention. Gardening is all about problem solving and it certainly does keep our brains active. When I look back on all the things that don’t go to plan, it makes me laugh. Gardens, gardeners and nature are not perfect and so don’t worry about it. I tell myself this all the time! 

The Orchard

The fruit has been pumping and we have had crates of apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, mulberries and the apples, crab apples and pears have just started. Not only are we delighting in eating fresh fruits, and sharing with friends, stewing them, and freezing some for future sponge top puddings and crumbles, Sally our cake baker, has been busy prepping it for future cakes and slices. 
It would be great to say everything was perfect in the orchard but that is just not true. There are birds inside the netted orchard who are also sharing in our harvest and I have even seen a few lorikeets inside. I have been working my way around the perimeter to see where they could be getting in as in some cases, they could have come under the metal cables pinning it down, slipped in beside gates that have warped, or just flown in when my kids left the gates wide open!? At one point we had a bird of prey in there and it did occur to me to leave him inside to rid me of the fruit eating birds. Only problem was he was also scaring the chooks and they stopped laying, so I opted to go for eggs and sharing some of the ripe fruit.

Dad's Shed Renovations

A major summer project was to retrofit insulation to the roof of Richards Shed. The shed was built a number of years ago from a recycled, repurposed shed that was due to be demolished at a building site, and at the time we did not realize it would become the venue for talks at our open gardens and our workshops and special events. In hindsight we should have insulated it, but at the time we didn’t, so two weeks ago, on a 31c degree day we took the sheets of iron off the shed two rows at a time and added a sheet of insulation. The difference in the shed is remarkable and it will make it more comfortable for future events in summer and winter. 

The Flock

Zeus …. Or should it be Zoose??

My gardening companion continues to add joy and laughter to my life. He has grown quite big and when I can I have him with me in the garden. He likes a good cuddle and talks to me constantly. He now goes to sleep in a dog kennel on the back lawn, alongside the kennel used for a Mummy chickie and her four chicks and they simply graze and scratch in the back yard all day when we are not around.
Zeus has made it known that he loves Cos lettuce and has decimated my inground plantings in the main vegie patch, so I just need to plan future plantings where they can be fenced off. I say he, but the true is Zeus could be a she and we wont really know till he/she is around 12 months old. My flock are mixed breeds and so I usually get my poultry expert Adrian Burgees to help me sex them at around 12 months old when you can identify who is who. In this politically correct world we live in, I guess it just means that Zeus is gender fluid!? 

Easter Open Garden Save the Date

Easter Saturday, Sunday, and Monday 3rd to 5th April 2021

We are getting set for another open garden over Easter Saturday, Sunday, and Monday 5th to 7th April. Since we were able to hold our spring open garden in a COVID safe manner, we know we can do the same over Easter. We are still finalizing the details but please hold the date. Heather Hristovski has again agreed to produce savoury tasting boxes, and Sally is working on the cakes for sweet tasting boxes.  Please stay tuned to for details as we share them. 

Sophie’s Patch Workshops for 2021

Succulent Art Workshop making Succulent Birdcages

Succulent bird cage workshops were heaps of fun and everyone loved their creations. Check out the photos at We plan to hold this workshop again later in the year and expect we will offer a succulent picture frame workshop this winter, the frames are being made now so we will open this up when they have been completed.

Summer Fruit Tree Pruning Workshops

We have had the first three of our Summer Fruit Tree Pruning workshops and they were lots of fun too despite the crazy weather. We have got two more coming up in the next two weeks and unfortunately they are already booked out.  

Two New Events

However, we have just opened up two more events – Grow your own – vegies for beginners and Starting your patch from Scratch. Details below but get in quick because numbers are strictly limited.

Grow your own – vegies for beginners

Friday 26th February 
Saturday 27th February
9.30am - 3pm

After the success of the full day workshops we ran here back in late winter and early spring, we are again offering these for those wanting to start to grow their own vegies. I am an obsessive-compulsive vegie grower and have designed this workshop for beginners who want to develop their own productive vegie patch or ‘yummy yard’.  I will cover the essential details such as soil, compost, irrigation, seasonal planting, and seeds vs seedlings. Learn too about how to bring in the good bugs to help manage the bad and deal with potential problems within your fledgling garden. There will also be a tour of my different productive areas at Sophie’s Patch, which include both extensive in ground gardens and wicking beds, to give you the opportunity of exploring what is possible and what is right for you. The day includes morning tea of delicious cakes and lunch made from my produce. Numbers are strictly limited so get in early via
Grow Your Own Vegies Tickets

Starting Your Patch From Scratch

@Sophie's Patch 14th March 1.30 - 5pm
@Sophie's Patch 15 March 9.30 - 1pm
@Clare Showgrounds 17 April 9.30 - 12.30pm

I am really looking forward to running this workshop back again in Clare and at Sophie's Patch. Ironically, I have never delivered this workshop here, even though I have run it interstate as well as for the bushfire affected communities of Kangaroo Island and the Adelaide Hills, even doing a satellite event up at Clare back in spring. 


Looking to develop your own piece of paradise but not sure where to start? 

Come to this workshop to learn the fundamentals of creating your perfect sustainable property and understand how to develop a masterplan ensuring success.

This extended workshop will cover zoning concepts to help you manage water use and create microclimates for more enjoyable living, the basics of soil improvement, optimal planting times, work out where to locate productive patches such as vegie gardens and fruit trees, incorporate fowls, bees and beneficial bugs…… and much more.

It is this experience of creating my own garden from a bare paddock over the last eight and a half years, with summer temperatures often hotter than Adelaide, and six to seven months of frosts (down to minus 5 degrees)  that gives me the hands-on experience to run this workshop.

I will use examples from my own garden to showcase how these principles have been used in a harsh environment successfully.

Come along with your notebook and burning questions relating to developing your own garden and I will endeavour to weave in answers as I go.
Starting Your Patch From Scratch Tickets

Out and About

I have been doing some garden consultations and am back filming two days a month for Gardening Australia, with garden talks starting soon. After a summer break, I am back doing talkback gardening each Sunday with the one and only Peter Goers on ABC Adelaide. Call in with your gardening questions or just listen in from wherever you at 11am SA time (11.30am AEST) via We talk gardening and have lots of laughs along the way.
SA locals will know that I write in the Home Magazine insert of the Sunday Mail, and in fact I have been writing there for the past 17 years. There are some changes happening and I am excited to say that the magazine is now called At Home and comes out in The Adelaide Advertiser on Saturday. Locals in SA will still see my column every week but those interstate in NSW, VIC and Qld can now catch a national column written by me every fortnight in The Saturday Telegraph in NSW, the Herald Sun in Victoria and the Courier Mail in Queensland. You can also still catch my column weekly in the Weekender Herald. The first insert date is Saturday 13th Feb.

Newsletter Winner

For this month’s prize we are giving three lucky winners a piece of Sophie’s Patch garden art – an orange metal butterfly.  Winners will be drawn at random.
Happy gardening!



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